For as long as I can remember, my riding lessons have been filled with the order to, “Look up!” It isn’t that I find my hands particularly fascinating, but it’s just that when I concentrate on something, I tend to stare fixedly at it. My surroundings disappear, and it’s just me examining my fingers and begging them to stop moving so much. And that’s a problem.
There are obvious reasons this is an issue: I could run over someone or something, I could miss terribly at a jump, I could get off my line. But that’s not why I am writing this blog.
It’s easy in life to stare at something so intently that the rest of the world drops away. What we tend to stare at are what I consider “fire issues”: things that demand our attention but are not necessarily important.
So a weekday comes and we stress over the email containing a confrontation amidst the looming deadlines of our work. Look up. There are people buzzing around you, real people with real life stories. There’s a city outside with alleys that you haven’t seen and favorite places gone unvisited. There are homeless men scattered on corners that, statistically speaking, probably fought in a war. And while they didn’t give their life, in a way they did, because here they are. Look up.
So a dinner date ensues with friends and the glow of phones interrupts the ambiance and lets the food get cold. Look up. There’s someone sitting next to you that doesn’t just want another, “How are you?” They want an “Are you truly happy?” or a “What are your dreams for this year?” or a “Remember that time we…” And there’s dessert. Look up.
So I sit with a crying child who I desperately want to fall asleep and I stare at the flashing digital clock and think about how I have to be awake in three hours. Look up.
There’s a nursery around me that will fast become a toddler’s play paradise, then a teenager’s poster laden hideaway, then an empty room with remnants of the memories packed in boxes. There’s a moment surrounding me that I will miss for the rest of my life, if only I can look up.
So people spend so much time, especially this year, plastering their social media with articles mocking people who don’t have their views or their reality. It’s so easy in life to look down on others, but the real challenge is to look up. Instead of lecturing, why not try and learn? The world is more complex than any one person can ever understand, with empathy and humility in too short supply. We have privileges we should own, advantages we should share, struggles we should acknowledge. Look up.
So the barn gets filled with chatter in the stalls over how much so and so spent on their import, or how ridiculous the new kid’s riding attire is. Look up. There’s a sacred space around you, a space that so few people even get to know exists. There are people trading 16 hours of every day for the one hour here. When it’s too cold for the riders, there are workers smashing frozen water buckets and trudging through snow. Look up.
Time is fickle, and somehow worry and TV and daily habits absorb huge percentages of our lives, while the special moments that define our existence fight to even be recognized. Somehow a year has gone by and while I can tell you about who won Top Chef, I can’t tell you what two of my best friends have struggled with this year. What a shame. What a total misappropriation of my time here. I need to look up. There are people I can see now that I won’t be able to see by the end of this year. There are lives that will close and lives that will begin, and I want to be there for both.
2017 has begun and, I think we all can agree, we are happy to pack 2016 away for a variety of reasons. But I need this time to slow down. I need to abstain from the vortexes of Netflix binges and Facebook refreshes and my next riding lesson and my schedule restraints and how my day went and my my my. I need to look up.
So I vow to look at my city with new eyes. To call friends on my long drives. To have people over for nothing more than stories and wine. To turn off the TV and perhaps do absolutely nothing instead. To be bored. To acknowledge my privilege and do more to help those without it. To lay around and listen to albums. To write. To help someone without reason or justification. To love actively.
And God willing, to stop staring at my hands when I ride, and look up.
One of the Chronicle’s bloggers, Kristin Carpenter grew up in Louisiana and bought “Trance,” a green off-the-track Thoroughbred, as a teenager. Together, they ended up competing at the North American Young Riders Championships and the Bromont CCI**. She now has two baby horses as well as one baby human. Kristin juggles the management of her own company, Linder Educational Coaching, with riding, writing, and being a mom. You can read all her COTH blogs here and her non-horsey blogs at www.KristinLCarpenter.com.